Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One Down, Nine to Go: New Hampshire Musings

Raise your hand if you had Greg Biffle in your New Hampshire office pool.


That's what I thought. You all probably took one of the Big Three: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards or Jimmie Johnson. If you went with Edwards or Johnson, you still had a good day -- Johnson finished second, while Edwards came in third -- but those of you who picked Busch ... sorry, but those things happen sometimes.

But more on Busch later. Biffle snapped a 33-race winless streak, dating back to Kansas last season. He admitted to holding back toward the end of the race, conserving fuel and waiting until the last possible moment to make his move on Johnson ... which he did with 12 laps remaining. Johnson couldn't get back around, and suddenly Biffle vaulted to third in the standings.

With Dover and Kansas the next two tracks on the schedule -- two places Biffle runs quite well at -- he could further solidify himself as a title contender. I'm not gonna sit here and say Biffle will win the Cup, but another couple runs like Sunday's and he'll be right in the thick of things.

And chew on this little nugget: if Biffle does win the Sprint Cup, he'll become the first driver ever to win championships in the Craftsman Truck, Busch/Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.

Down, By No Means Out

I would love to write off Kyle Busch after his 34th-place disaster Sunday, but I just can't. It was only the first of 10 races, and if Busch gets on a tear again -- which he can -- he'll be right back in the mix.

I'm sure it's frustrating to see nearly all of that 80-point bonus he earned in the regular season evaporate, just as I'm sure he hated falling from first to eighth in the standings because of a loose sway bar. But Busch would do well to keep this fact in mind: Jimmie Johnson finished 39th at New Hampshire in 2006 and still came back to win the title.

Busch can still win the championship if he avoids another race like Sunday's. There's also the very real possibility that some of the other Chase drivers will have a bad race or two down the road as well -- Matt Kenseth already did. Talladega is also three weeks away, which could throw a monkey wrench into things for, literally, anyone.

Then there's Martinsville the week after that.

Busch is still a contender, and anyone who's counting him out after one bad race on a track that's traditionally not his best is either short-sighted or afflicted with a serious case of wishful thinking. Now, if Busch has another day like Sunday, he'll be done, but let's not throw dirt on the boy yet.

Tempting as it might be.

Radio Whisperer

Kudos to car owner Rick Hendrick for stepping in over the past couple races and trying to act as a mediator between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. Earnhardt's race on Sunday was typical of his season: strong car early, leading a lot of laps, then fading once the race passed the halfway point.

The culprit this week? A bad set of Goodyears, and Junior let Eury know it with an expletive-laden tirade before Hendrick stepped in to calm him down. Junior rebounded to finish fifth, his second straight top-5, thanks in large part to a pit crew that gained him spots on pit road all day.

Let's be honest for a minute -- if you listen to drivers' scanners while at the race, you'll notice Junior is far from the only guy to cuss out his car and crew. In fact, I would argue every driver does it. But Hendrick knows a thing or two about winning championships -- he has seven in the Cup Series alone -- and if he felt Junior's temper was getting in the way of winning, he was right to step in and say something.

Hendrick has done this for the past three races, and Junior's results have improved. He finished a solid 11th at California, fourth at Richmond and fifth this past weekend. Junior came to Hendrick Motorsports to contend for a championship, and while the season has been a success so far -- the team met its goals of winning a race and making the Chase -- Junior needs to focus and keep a certain level of calm if he's going to truly contend.

And Rick Hendrick knows that.

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